Monday is Remembrance Day. Do you know who in your family has fought to defend our country and way of life?
Both my grandfathers fought in WWI. Grandpa Lamb tended the horses in an artillery division and said the screams of the injured horses were horrific. Grandpa Turner was wounded and buried alive by a shell blast and although he lived through the war and had a family, he eventually died from the long lasting effects of the mustard gas.
My father’s brother Uncle Sid, was a bomber pilot who was shot down, declared missing and eventually declared dead. It was only about 20 years ago that the family learned his name is listed on the El Alamein Memorial in Egypt. My father who could not serve in the war due to tuberculosis, wished the sense of peace he felt learning of his brother’s memorial, could have been given to his mother before her death.
Dad’s older brother, Uncle Bruce joined WWII with the Royal Canadian Navy in 1941 and lived a long life, only passing away last month. For most of his life he was this larger than life, a robust, jolly man who always seem to be happy and laughing. Back in about 2000 he wrote of his time in the Navy, and his humourous style began with the title: “If You Can’t Take a Joke You Shouldn’t Have Joined! – The laughs, moans, and drips of Naval life as seen by yours truly 1941-45 & 1953 and 1969.”
The Turner family lived in Windsor, Ontario. Essex County, surrounded on three sides by water, does not have a large naval presence, although there is a building called HMCS Hunter – a Canadian Forces Naval Reserve division in the city. Why Uncle Bruce joined the Navy is rather interesting.
“I had put in a two and one half years of a four year Tool and Die Maker Apprenticeship at the Ford trade school and as Adolf Hitler was having things very much his own way, my desire to get into the fray had increased to the point that I volunteered for the Navy as an Engine Room Artificer. I get this job because I can run a lathe, milling machine, surface grinder, shaper, etc. despite the fact I have never seen the sea and the closest I have been to a steam engine is when an old “Marion” steam shovel dug up Brock St to install a sewer system so we didn’t have to patronize the half-moon shack with its Eaton and Simpson catalogue torture pages.”
Training was done in B.C. and Nova Scotia. His first ship was the HMCS Rimouski.
“As I stepped aboard and remembered to salute, I took one look at my home for the next 27 months and said to myself 'make every day, you may not have many.'” Fortunately in the 27 months aboard, he was only seasick on the first day.
In Oct of 1944 he went aboard the HMCS Penetang where they got to repaint the ship.
“Apparently our camouflage was for the wrong ocean. There are only the two, one at each end of Canada, so it was only natural we got a Pacific Paint job instead of our North Atlantic make-up.”
He had some time in the Caribbean before leaving the Penetang in May 1945 and getting drafted to the HMCS Peregrine in Halifax after which he was demobilized and returned to civvy street.
The lure of the sea was in his blood and 1953 saw him joining the Royal Canadian Navy again where he was drafted to the light cruiser HMCS Quebec. They departed Halifax and ran into a terrific storm before Bermuda, where they had to stay until repairs could be made. They then cruised western Africa, went around the Cape of Good Hope and north past Durban to Mombasa.
Uncle Bruce’s next ship was my favourite, the aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, which he served on from 1958-1960. While at sea they ran headlong into a terrific storm.
“The wind was blowing at 85 miles per hour and taking the top three feet off the waves. The bow of the ship was shoved back ten-and-a-half inches by the force of the waves! The chain locker and fore peak were flooded and we were really butting into the waves instead of lifting to them.”
From the largest ship in our navy Uncle Bruce was sent to the smallest, MCS Mallard. Before retiring he also served aboard the frigate, MNCS Lauzon, and completed his time on the HHCS Terra Nova in 1966.
“It was over! Despite the war and peacetime separations from the family, I loved the Navy and wouldn’t change anything, even if that were possible. I sailed both during and after the war with, what I consider some of the best men that Canada may have ever produced.”
Although he died in October, Uncle Bruce will be aboard a Canadian Naval vessel one more time when his cremated remains will be buried at sea. The family will get a GPS coordinates of that site. A fitting tribute!